Old Story (Robert Creeley)

September 29, 2009

      from the Diary of Francis Kilvert

One bell wouldn’t ring loud enough.
So they beat the bell to hell, Max,
with an axe, to show it who’s boss,
boss. Me, I dreamt I dwelt in
some place one could relax
but I was wrong, wrong, wrong.
You got a song, man, sing it.
You got a bell, man, ring it.


Don Revell has a great little remembrance piece in the July/August issue of Poetry Magazine on Robert Creeley that has a bit of back story on this poem.


The commonplace miracle:
that so many common miracles take place.

The usual miracle:
invisible dogs barking
in the dead of night.

One of many miracles:
a small and airy cloud
is able to upstage the massive moon.

Several miracles in one:
an alder is reflected it the water
and is reversed from left to right
and grows from crown to root
and never hits bottom
though the water isn’t deep.

A run-of-the-mill miracle:
winds mild to moderate
turning gusty in storms.

A miracle in the first place:
cows wills be cows.

Next but not least:
just this cherry orchard
from just this cherry pit.

A miracle minus top hat and tails:
fluttering white doves.

A miracle (what else can you call it):
the sun rose today at three fourteen a.m.
and will set tonight at one past eight.

A miracle that’s lost on us:
the hand actually has fewer than six fingers
but still it’s got more than four.

A miracle, just take a look around:
the inescapable earth.

An extra miracle, extra and ordinary:
the unthinkable
can be thought.


“Even bullshit is fertilizer,” a friend once told me. “Something good in a green and flowering world will come of it,” he said. And Chesterton reminds us that in the very shape of things there is more than green growth. There is the finality of the flower. In this “world of crowns” even small airy clouds upstage massive moons. Miracle fair. Take your pick. They wait beyond every opened door. They’re fixed within the frame of every morning mirror.

Waving Goodbye (Gerald Stern)

September 14, 2009

I wanted to know what it was like before we
had voices and before we had bare fingers and before we
had minds to move us through our actions
and tears to help us over our feelings,
so I drove my daughter through the snow to meet her friend
and filled her car with suitcases and hugged her
as an animal would, pressing my forehead against her,
walking in circles, moaning, touching her cheek,
and turned my head after them as an animal would,
watching helplessly as they drove over the ruts,
her smiling face and her small hand just visible
over the giant pillows and coat hangers
as they made their turn into the empty highway.


Denise Levertov asks in one of her poems if the animal’s joy is found in the way it doesn’t falter, because it can’t, because it “knows what it must do.” Unlike animals, we are always faltering, and are seldom sure of what to do. And so, occassionally, we are forced (or must somehow force ourselves) into moments of helplessness, where we grow dumb, where only our bodies know how to speak.

Eve addressing Adam:

     Adam, well may we labor still to dress
This garden, still to tend plant, herb and flow’r
Our pleasant task enjoined, but till more hands
Aid us, the work under our labor grows
Luxurious by restraint: what we by day
Lop overgrown or prune or prop or bind
One night or two with wanton growth derides,
Tending to wild. Thou therefore now advise
Or hear what to my mind first thoughts present:
Let us divide our labors…

(Book Nine, 205 – 214)

. . .

Satan, disguised as the serpent, addressing Eve:

But all that fair and good in thy divine
Semblance, and in thy beauty’s heavenly ray,
United I beheld; no fair to thine
Equivalent or second! which compelled
Me thus, though importune perhaps, to come
And gaze, and worship thee of right declared
Sovereign of creatures, universal dame!
     So talked the spirited sly Snake; and Eve,
Yet more amazed, unwary thus replied.
     Serpent, thy overpraising leaves in doubt
The virtue of that fruit, in thee first proved:
But say, where grows the tree? from hence how far?
For many are the trees of God that grow
In Paradise, and various, yet unknown
To us; in such abundance lies our choice,
As leaves a greater store of fruit untouched,
Still hanging incorruptible, till men
Grow up to their provision, and more hands
Help to disburden Nature of her birth.
     To whom the wily Adder, blithe and glad:
Empress, the way is ready, and not long;
Beyond a row of myrtles, on a flat,
Fast by a fountain, one small thicket past
Of blowing myrrh and balm: if thou accept
My conduct, I can bring thee thither soon.
     Lead then, said Eve…

(606 – 631)


Here grows the cure of all, this fruit divine,
Fair to the eye, inviting to the taste,
Of virtue to make wise: What hinders then
To reach, and feed at once both body and mind?
     So saying, her rash hand in evil hour
Forth reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she eat!
Earth felt the wound; and Nature from her seat,
Sighing through all her works, gave signs of woe,
That all was lost…

(776 – 784)


Adam addressing Eve after their judgement has been pronounced:

But rise, let us no more contend, nor blame
Each other, blamed enough elsewhere, but strive
In offices of love how we may light’n
Each other’s burden in our share of woe
Since this day’s death denounced, if aught I see,
Will prove no sudden but a slow-paced evil,
A long day’s dying to augment our pain
And to our seed (O hapless seed!) derived.

(Book Ten, lines 959 – 965)


Milton’s supreme mastery, according to T.S. Eliot, is “his ability to give a perfect and unique pattern to every paragraph, such that the full beauty of the line is found in its context, and his ability to work in larger musical units than any other poet.” Not the line, but the breath. Which is evidenced here in these brief excerpts, all crucial passages of books Nine and Ten.

The only relics left are those long
spangled seconds our school clock chipped out
when you crossed the social hall
and we found each other alive,
by our glances never to accept our town’s
ways, torture for advancement,
nor ever again be prisoners by choice.

Now I learn you died
serving among the natives of Garden City,
Kansas, part of a Peace Corps
before governments thought of it.

Ruth, over the horizon your friends eat
foreign chaff and have addresses like titles,
but for you the crows and hawks patrol
the old river. May they never
forsake you, nor you need monuments
other than this I make, and the one
I hear clocks chip in that world we found.